Much-loved actress Wendy Richard won fame on television, firstly with her role as buxom Miss Brahms, the cheeky junior womenswear assistant at the Grace Brothers store in the sitcom Are You Being Served?, and later as the battle-hardened matriarch Pauline Fowler in the BBC soap EastEnders.
She was in the very first episode of EastEnders, broadcast in February 1985, and when she left 22 years later only Adam Woodyatt, who played Pauline’s nephew, Ian Beale, remained of the original cast.
She was born Wendy Emerton in Middlesborough on July 20, 1943. At the age of eight, she found her father dead in front of a gas fire. He had been suffering from acute depression.
Richard was educated at the Royal Masonic School in Herts, leaving at 15 to take a job in the fashion department of Fortnum & Mason. Later, she decided on a career as an actress and studied at the Italia Conti Stage School. Her mother, who never recovered from her husband’s death, became an alcoholic and died of liver cancer before television brought her daughter fame.
Richard’s first TV appearance was in 1960 on The Sammy David Show, but she won wider fame when she duetted with Mike Sarne in the cult pop song Come Outside. The song was number one in the charts for 19 weeks, although she only received a flat fee of £15 for the recording.
Early TV and film work included comedy roles in Dad’s Army (as the girlfriend of Private Walker), On The Buses, Please Sir! and The Likely Lads, and she starred in several Carry On films including Carry On Matron and Carry On Girls.
Are You Being Served? (1973) gave her the biggest break of her career and the show ran for 13 years from 1973. At the height of its success it was watched by 22 million viewers and Richard was receiving more than 200 fan letters a week.
Her hard-nosed Pauline Fowler in EastEnders proved her talent as a strong dramatic actress. She appeared in 1,400 episodes of the soap but left when she was dissatisfied with the story line. “I couldn’t believe in what they wanted me to do and unless I can find some truth in what I am doing I cannot play the part,” she said.
Richard, who was made an MBE in 2000, had twice overcome breast cancer but was told last year it had returned. In October 2008 she announced that the disease was terminal. During that month she married her long-term partner John Burns, a painter and decorator. She was married three times previously.
For many years she had raised large sums for charity, notably The Variety Club Gold Heart Campaign for sick, disabled and disadvantaged children.
Paying tribute, June Brown, who starred in EastEnders as Dot Branning, said: “I loved working with her. We were good partners, we really enjoyed our scenes and that’s why I missed her so much when she left. She was a particularly kind woman.”
Molly Sugden, who appeared with Richard in Are You Being Served?, described her as “a daughter I never had and I shall never stop missing her”.
Richard died on February 26, 2009 at the Harley Street Clinic in London with her husband at her side.
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